[The following Q&A previews Dawes’ Tuesday, Feb. 7 show at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St. Tickets are $23-25. Purchase here]
A band breakup can end a musician’s career, or in Taylor Goldsmith’s case, it can expand it beyond their dreams. His first band, Simon Dawes, broke up after guitarist Blake Mills left left to pursue a session guitarist and solo career. So Goldsmith went on to form Dawes with his little brother, Griffin. Since 2009, the folk rockers have been releasing music at a prolific clip, touring with names like Bob Dylan and sharing a studio with T Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford.
Dawes found inspiration in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon neighborhood, where, in the beginning stages of their career, they forged a relationship with producer Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Shooter Jennings, Jenny Lewis). With him, they jammed with people like Conor Oberst and Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, developing a vintage, 1970s Southern California folk sound. And since then, Goldsmith, singer and lead songwriter, has earned comparisons to Jackson Browne, a nod to his similar songwriting and singing style.
But the band isn’t limited to folk and has opened up to experimentation. Its latest album, We’re All Gonna Die, takes a slightly different route and features its unique take on folk, with an additional layer of pop and synth, and was produced by friend and Grammy-nominated Blake Mills.
Goldsmith, 31, and Mills met each other as children in Malibu and later formed the four-piece rock band Simon Dawes in the mid-2000s. They named it after Mills’ middle name, the former, and Goldsmith’s middle name, the latter. Since the two parted ways in 2007, Goldsmith formed Dawes with his brother and drummer Griffin Goldsmith. Mills has produced records for artists like Alabama Shakes, John Legend and Jim James and started a solo project of his own.
Goldsmith has also worked up a nice resume. In 2014, a year after touring with Dylan, he was part of the supergroup The New Basement Tapes, with Jim James, Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford and Rhiannon Giddens. The project was headed by legendary Grammy-award winning producer T Bone Burnett (Elton John, John Mellencamp, “Inside Llewyn Davis” soundtrack), and focused on old Dylan songs that were previously unrecorded. In 2011, he joined Middle Brother with Deer Tick’s John J. McCauley III, and Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez. Three years later, Dawes backed Oberst’s and opened for him on his Upside Down Mountain tour.
Goldsmith spoke with Hear Nebraska in late January while on tour in Lake Tahoe, California, about their latest single’s roundabout Bright Eyes connection, the state of the music industry, and about Mills being his friend, former band mate and producer.
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Hear Nebraska: You know what, Taylor? I first saw you play with Simon Dawes in 2007 at Red Rocks. You opened for Incubus.
Taylor Goldsmith: Oh, wow. That’s cool. Yeah, that was our last tour.
HN: Yeah, that’s what I thought. I remember Mike Einziger (Incubus guitarist) was really touting you and telling their fans how good Simon Dawes was.
TG: Yeah, they were very supportive.
HN: I saw Dawes at Sokol in 2014 with Conor Oberst. Then you came back and played the next year in Council Bluffs. What are some of your fondest memories of playing in this area?
TG: When we went out on tour Conor, we did all of our rehearsals in Omaha. So we were there for about a week before the tour even started. Most of the time with touring, we just kind of see a city for a day and leave. But it was really nice to spend some time there like that. It was really nice getting to know that city. It has so many nice bars, restaurants, venues and people. So we really enjoyed being there for that week of rehearsals.
HN: Cool, man. That’s awesome. Did Conor take you to Pageturners (Lounge)?
TG: Yeah, we spent a lot of time at Pageturners.
HN: So Dawes released their album, We’re All Gonna Die, last summer and toured in support of it as well. The album has the Dawes, folky sound to it, and you’ve added a new upbeat, Mo-Town shell to it. Is it different playing these songs in cold, wintry places compared to playing them in the summer?
TG: (Laughs). Well, it’s a lot more indoor shows than outdoor shows. But it’s been a blast incorporating these songs into the set. For us, we think of the album first and what the album means. It’s always fun to think about how the new material will inform the show, you know? When a song like “One Of Us” or “We’re All Gonna Die,” is played in a show that doesn’t have that kind of mood or energy otherwise, it’s really kind of widened the spectrum of what we can do in a show. To be able to go from “That Western Skyline” to “Now That’s It’s Too Late, Maria” and “Most People” and now adding these new kind of vibes like “One Of Us” and a lot of stuff on the record. So it’s really cool to have that in our back pocket. Now, there’s over 50 songs, and we’re always looking forward to adding to the catalog in that way.
HN: Absolutely. You guys have a lot of material.
TG: Yeah, man. It’s been so fun every step of the way. But when you look at a lot of our heros, it’s nothing for them to have 10, 15, 20 records. So in a lot of ways, we feel like this is early for us.
HN: In The Wall Street Journal last summer, you mentioned something along the lines that more is better when it comes to releasing music. And it seems like that is a good approach. You entered the music scene at a time when CDs were in their downward spiral, and you’ve seen the industry transition to streaming. What overall impact do you think streaming is going to have on the quality of music in the future, and how do you think it affects what Dawes is doing?
TG: The quality of music, I don’t know. The fact that not that long ago, for you to have your record available in a record store was a huge deal. And now, you don’t need much to have your music available on iTunes, or Spotify, or Apple Music, and so it’s really cool that weather or not you’re Springsteen or the dude next door, your music can be available. I think that’s really cool. But I also think that it floods that market. There’s something always worth checking out. There’s always something good, interesting and worthwhile. So for us, it’s been a matter of we’ve been very lucky to find an audience.
Obviously, we’d love to continue growing if we can. It’s way bigger than we ever dreamed anyway. So we do feel very lucky to be connected with a certain number of people. But I think while it’s wonderful to be more available, I also think up-and-coming musicians will struggle with having to get above the noise. Not that’s it’s bad shit, but it’s there’s so much. And for you to break out and find that audience, I don’t even know what that would entail anymore. I think for us, we were one of those examples of bands that never happened overnight. It never happened with a hit single, or a hit record. It just happened because we toured hard, we’re still touring hard. And we’re still releasing music regularly.
You don’t see Dawes go away for two years at a time or three years at a time. We’re always making a record. I think by never really retiring in a periphery for any amount of time, by staying in the game, that’s kind of what works for us. I don’t think that would work for everybody because the music isn’t really meant for the stage half of every year. There’s just so many ways to do it. For us, we’ve been lucky that the live show and the body of work rather than any one song or album, has been what we’ve been dependent on more than anything else.
HN: Yeah, nowadays, it seems like touring is a big deal for a band. If that’s how they’re going to keep going and make money, that’s what they need to do.
TG: Totally. And that’s also a competitive thing. Now, because of what you just said, everyone is on tour all of the time. So you can go to any big city or small city, and look at what concerts are coming through, and some of the biggest acts in the world are cruising through in the same week. That competitive nature … not competitive in hoping that someone else fails or hoping to beat anybody, but just hoping that people still feel like coming to your show and end up a very packed week, that’s a lot for people to be willing to do. And on top of that, be willing to give over their evenings, and sometimes the weeknight, and also be willing to fork over the money, it’s a tall order for musicians to be asking of audiences so constantly. So we’re so grateful that there is that people that loves that culture. That really love live concerts. It’s amazing that that’s still so strong. But I have no idea what the future holds in that regard.
HN: So you started out as Simon Dawes with Blake Mills in the mid-2000s and then he produced We’re All Gonna Die. How is it different from Mills being your childhood friend and bandmate, and nearly a decade later, being your producer?
TG: I mean, in a way, it’s made it a lot easier. The number one reason being mainly because we were kids back then. We didn’t really know who we were or how to communicate. We definitely didn’t have any idea of what the roles were. Back then, we were writing songs together, and then we started writing songs on our own because we were able to kind of stand on our own two feet.
And it was easy to get confused. It’s like, “Does that mean we’re not supposed to write songs together?” Which, of course, is not true. And he was getting into wanting to be a lead singer as well, which, he makes his own, incredible records and he has an amazing voice. And I was struggling to find my identity as well. So when the band broke up, he did start making those solo records, and I actually became more of a guitar player. In Simon Dawes, being in a band with Blake, I never really learned much. I just learned chords and how to back someone else up. I really had to learn a lot to be the guitarist for Dawes.
To have him produce, it was as if we were coming back together as totally formed individuals with a very clear understanding of the breakdown. There was no longer any confusion as to, “Well, what songs should Blake sing? And what songs should I sing? Or, “Is it OK that I wrote these songs myself?” It was all taken care of. It was a pleasure and a privilege. And really fun and easy.
HN: Right on. The title of your new album, We’re All Gonna Die, brings up questions. Where did that originate?
TG: I feel like that phrase has it’s own power. When you hear it, you associate it with something, whether that’s a Saturday Night Live skit, or like how you’d expect someone to react in a plane crash or whatever it is. And it’s kind of an idiom now. It’s a phrase. For me, I just thought it’s such an associative term. You can come across it in so many things, in books, in stand-up routines, in movies or just conversation, and for me, it was a reminder to myself of how to not take things too seriously. And how to appreciate what I should appreciate. And put aside the things that don’t deserve to be thought about and then move on. I think the song sounds bleak, but when you really break it down, all it is is a song that’s asking myself to focus on what matters.
HN: So Dawes took a departure from the folksy, rock sound on the album. What kind of sound can listeners expect on the next album?
TG: I have no idea. I have no idea of that as much as I had no idea of what We’re All Gonna Die was going to sound like. For us, we’ve gone into every record with a batch of songs that we just decided to trust the experience of making a record. I think to have gone into making our other records thinking it needs to sound this way or that way, it really would have held everything back and held back the collaborative and kind of spontaneous process. For us, making a song like “Things Happen,” to me, that song would fit just as well as We’re All Gonna Die, maybe even make more sense on an album like We’re All Gonna Die, than “All Your Favorite Bands.” Same with songs like “From A Window Seat” or “Most People” or “When My Time Comes.” I think there’s a certain element of what’s going on on We’re All Gonna Die that’s actually always been there. It might sound different because we’re in a different studio, we have a different engineer, we have a different producer, but I think what goes into arranging the material and performing the material, is really not that different than what it was.
HN: Right, right. That makes sense. “When The Tequila Runs Out” is a fun song. What was the process like writing the song? Did the lyrics come first, and was there a certain party that inspired it?
TG: There actually was. When we were doing pre-production for All Your Favorite Bands, we were playing these small shows and playing new material, we went down to Joshua Tree. And a lot of friends came down, including our buddy [former Rilo Kiley drummer] Jason Boesel, who was actually [toured] in Bright Eyes for awhile [in 2015]. There was an afterparty at a friend’s house near the venue, and I had to load the gear up, and when I got over to the party, I was like, “Is there anything to drink?” And he said, “There’s a little bit of tequila left, but I brought a bottle of nice champagne in case we run out of that.”
And he and I just made up that line. There were no guitars or anything. We just started saying that line. We thought it was funny. And then the next day, we hit each other up, and was like, “Hey, man, there’s probably a good song around that.” So we kind of put together the lyrics basically of a collage of a lot of L.A. experiences; the L.A. party world that I’m not too familiar with and actually never felt particularly at home in. And we wanted the music to reflect that. I like the idea that someone could hear that song and wonder, “Is this a celebratory, fun song? Is it all positive? Or is this narrator condemning this or uncomfortable with this? And I like this sort of ambiguity.
HN: Huh, that’s cool! So Dawes is in the early stages of your tour. And you’re playing some iconic places, like The Fillmore in San Francisco, the Ryman in Nashville and the Beacon Theatre in New York. Do you ever get excited about playing particular shows?
TG: Absolutely. We always love to be playing those kinds of venues. Obviously, we love playing any show. But to have been at the Beacon, and being on certain radio shows, being in that room opening for other people, the idea of going in there and playing our own show is a dream. We can’t believe that it’s really happening. So we’re over the moon about these venues that we’re playing.